Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Eighth Report


1.It is obviously the case that non-departmental public bodies should always be looking to run their operations more efficiently. However, in the case of VisitBritain, no-one has demonstrated that there are inefficiencies in the way it conducts its operations, and certainly not of the scale to justify the cut in its resources that is proposed. Instead, we share the view that VisitBritain is generally a well-run and efficient organisation and regard the Government's attempted explanation of its decision as wholly unconvincing. (Paragraph 40)
2.While recognising the tightness of this year's public expenditure settlement, we find it extraordinary that Ministers took the decision to concentrate all of the pain on the Department's funding for tourism. Indeed, we believe that there was a strong case for increasing the resources available to VisitBritain given the evidence of the economic benefits that can result and the unique opportunity provided by the forthcoming 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games. The decision to cut resources is simply baffling and should be reconsidered. (Paragraph 41)
3.There is a danger that in seeking to secure greater funding from non-Government sources, VisitBritain's role in marketing the UK may be compromised, and VisitBritain should ensure it strikes an appropriate balance when agreeing commercial deals. However, on balance, we believe this is less damaging to the industry than the alternative of a blind reliance on Government funding. (Paragraph 49)
4.VisitBritain's network of overseas offices plays a major role in attracting overseas visitors to the UK. We understand that a certain amount of readjustment on the part of VisitBritain will be necessary in response to its budget cut, but we urge it to prioritise the maintenance, wherever possible, of its overseas offices. The closure or relocation of office space could, in fact, prove more expensive to the taxpayer in the long term. (Paragraph 50)
5.As things stand, there are insufficient incentives for local authorities to invest in tourism. The fact that tourism is a discretionary function means that it is always susceptible to a reduction in funding when budgets become tight. Yet in many local authorities, tourism represents a very significant sector of the economy and investment in the industry should be seen as a necessity rather than a luxury. (Paragraph 54)
6.We welcome the new fund to support England's seaside resorts, many of which struggle to maintain visitor numbers. It is essential that the funds are spent wisely, not just to maximise the benefit to the resorts, but also to demonstrate to the Treasury that such an investment is effective and worthwhile. There are clearly limits to the difference £45 million over three years can make to England's many seaside resorts. We recommend that the Government evaluates the wider economic impact of the fund to see whether the returns justify an increase in its size. (Paragraph 59)
7.The publication of the list of sports facilities that will appear in the London 2012 pre-Games training camp guide generated substantial media coverage and it may have raised expectations beyond a reasonable level. There are no guarantees as to which areas National Olympic/Paralympic Committees will choose for their athletes, or indeed whether they will locate themselves in the UK for pre-Games camps at all. (Paragraph 71)
8.The very fact that the Olympic and Paralympic Games are hosted by cities and not countries inevitably limits the extent to which areas outside the host city can expect to benefit. From a tourism perspective, there are some limited short-term benefits to be realised outside London. However, we doubt whether these are as great, or as certain, as the Government has suggested. The principal tourism potential of the Games, in London and the rest of the UK, lies in the positive legacy that would be created by the effective promotion and delivery of a top-class Games. (Paragraph 73)
9.We regret that there are no plans for any brand to be generally available for use by tourism businesses. This is a missed opportunity which reduces the potential for tourism businesses to gain maximum benefit from the Games, and we urge that this be reconsidered. (Paragraph 76)
10.It is regrettable that the Government is committed to a Comprehensive Spending Review settlement so close to London 2012 with a substantial funding reduction for the body responsible for marketing the UK overseas. We do not doubt that there are other factors which will underpin the delivery of DCMS's Olympic tourism strategy, but effective marketing of the UK overseas must be a priority. We believe that it is not too late to realise fully the tourism benefits of the Games, but a greater investment from the Government is necessary. We recommend that provision is made as soon as possible for additional funding for VisitBritain specifically for this purpose. (Paragraph 89)
11.If planned, marketed, and delivered successfully, major events can provide short-term economic benefits, together with the opportunity for a lasting legacy. We are hugely encouraged by the calibre of events that the UK is now attracting on a regular basis. In particular, we congratulate Glasgow on its successful bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games. These Games represent a real opportunity to maintain the momentum that we hope will be generated by a successful London Olympic and Paralympic Games. We recommend that the organisers of the London and Glasgow Games work closely together, and ensure that any lessons learnt from London are applied to Glasgow. (Paragraph 93)
12.We are satisfied that DCMS is the correct government "home" for tourism and advise against any further organisational change. However, this does not mean we are satisfied with DCMS's performance on tourism. We are concerned by the lack of confidence the industry appears to have in DCMS. We are also discouraged that responsibility for tourism has been so frequently transferred between Departmental Ministers creating an impression that it is seen as an afterthought which has to fit in with their other responsibilities. This impression is strengthened by the fact that the Minister with responsibility for tourism no longer has this recognised in their official title and we recommend that this is reinstated in the title of the responsible Minister. That said, there are some isolated signs that the Department is beginning to represent the industry better across government. We would like to see more consistent evidence that tourism is becoming a mainstream issue in government. We would also like to see DCMS provide a stronger strategic lead to the industry, and we hope that the new national tourism strategy represents a willingness to do so. (Paragraph 98)
13.The restructuring of the tourism industry in 2003 devolved responsibility for tourism to the RDAs. While this has given the regions a greater say in how they develop the industry, it has also resulted in tourism nationwide becoming fragmented, with widespread variation between regions as to the significance attached to it. There is a lack of overall strategic direction, which only DCMS can provide. Meanwhile, we encourage the RDAs to work together through initiatives such as Partners for England to share best practice and ensure a more coordinated approach to tourism development in England. (Paragraph 103)
14.Raising the quality of accommodation is essential to improving the industry, and the NQAS is an important tool in this regard. We support the Government's efforts to increase the number of accredited accommodation providers within a single recognised scheme, but agree that the scheme should remain voluntary. However, we recommend that the scheme be made more flexible so as not to disadvantage smaller or unorthodox accommodation providers. We recommend that the costs for smaller providers are reduced in order to take account of their lower turnover, perhaps to be balanced by increased fees charged to the larger hotels. (Paragraph 110)
15.We are encouraged by the level of funding and attention that is being offered to address the skills deficiencies that are constraining the industry. However, it is disappointing that so few small businesses in the tourism sector actually access the funding available to them for developing staff skills. While this is to some degree a failing of the businesses themselves, the Government and its agencies must place greater emphasis on coordinating and promoting these opportunities. (Paragraph 120)
16.While we recognise the value of migrant workers to the industry, a reliance on this stream of labour may not be sustainable in the long term. We would like to see the Government and its agencies place greater emphasis upon initiatives to attract the locally unemployed to the industry. At the same time, local authorities and/or RDAs, in partnership with the trade unions, should ensure that migrant workers are given every opportunity to understand their rights. (Paragraph 124)
17.The high cost of obtaining a visa to visit the UK is one constraint on inbound tourism. The cost of a UK visa is not competitive with that of our European neighbours and this acts as a disincentive for those requiring a visa to enter the UK to visit. It is not the only cause of the recent drop-off in inbound tourism revenues, but it is almost certainly a contributory factor. We are deeply concerned that the consequences for tourism appear not to have been considered by the Home Office when the new visa charges were drawn up. We strongly recommend reforms to the current system to address this disincentive and we are therefore encouraged to hear that there are now ongoing discussions between DCMS and the Home Office. We support the plans for a "Schengen add-on visa", which would make visits to the UK for those already holding a Schengen visa a more affordable proposition. We also support moves to introduce a cheaper, short term, single entry visa. However, these modifications are unlikely to be possible under UKvisas' revenue-neutral model. This system is putting off potential visitors who are likely to boost the UK economy to a far greater degree than the value of a visa. We recommend that the Government undertakes a cost-benefit study into the effects of reduced visa charges under certain circumstances, with a view to reforming the present system. (Paragraph 136)
18.We recommend that the Government also reviews the practicalities associated with obtaining a UK visa. Modifications to the present system, such as permitting the completion of visa forms in certain other languages, could make obtaining a visa a simpler process for prospective visitors without compromising the UK's national security. (Paragraph 137)
19.During our investigation, we received no evidence on the potential impact of the current entry clearance regime on the availability of visas both generally and in respect of visitors to the 2012 Games. The recent European Champions League final in Moscow, however, does highlight the dilemmas faced by government when confronted with a rush of applications for a popular event, even when potential "over-staying" was not an issue. The Government will clearly have to give considerable thought to this issue in the approach to the 2012 Games. (Paragraph 138)
20.We encourage the other regions to follow London's lead, and draw on the experience of the London Development Agency in improving the provision of tourism statistics. (Paragraph 144)
21.The current deficiencies in the provision of statistics are a major constraint on the potential growth of the tourism industry. The findings of the Allnutt Review, which outlined many of these deficiencies, drew wide support from the industry. Yet it is clear that its recommendations have thus far been implemented only in a very limited and piecemeal fashion. There has therefore been very little benefit to the industry as a result. However, the Committee is encouraged by the plans to develop a Tourism Intelligence Unit. We support the proposal for the Unit to review the Allnutt recommendations, with a view to their development and implementation. While this is a positive step, the Unit must receive adequate funding so that the limitations of tourism statistics, that have been recognised for so long, can finally be addressed. We note that no definite commitments have been made beyond setting up the Unit. It is of vital importance to the industry that this should not be merely another false dawn. (Paragraph 155)
22.We recognise that it is not always possible to provide sustainable travel options to tourist attractions, particularly when the attractions are remote or do not attract large numbers of visitors. However, where opportunities do exist, we encourage the public and private sectors to work in partnership to reduce the reliance on the car and the pressure this places upon the local environment. (Paragraph 160)
23.We are encouraged by the growing profile of environmental issues in the tourism sector. However, while significant progress has been made in recent years, there is clearly still scope for the industry to become more environmentally sustainable. The public is beginning to demand a better performance from tourism businesses on "green" issues, and we encourage the industry to respond to this demand. This will not only bring environmental benefits but will place businesses at a competitive advantage to those failing to meet the public's environmental expectations. (Paragraph 163)
24.There is little doubt that the Green Tourism Business Scheme has helped promote and reward environmental sustainability in the tourism sector. However, we are convinced that some modest changes would lead to both a greater uptake and a greater effectiveness. Significant benefits can be realised from ensuring a closer alignment between the National Quality Assurance Schemes and the Green Tourism Business Scheme. Environmental sustainability should be included within the NQAS. The Government must also take a lead in rewarding those accommodation providers that operate in a sustainable manner. We recommend that sound environmental practice should be a pre-requisite for the acquisition of accommodation contracts for the Government and its sponsored bodies. (Paragraph 167)
25.The Committee recognises that the introduction of Double British Summer Time does not have universal support. However, there is a growing body of convincing evidence demonstrating the benefits of the proposal, not least in terms of energy savings, road safety and increased tourism revenue. On the other hand, there are objections that different time zones within the UK would not be feasible nor desirable. We call on the Government therefore to consult widely on this matter to see if a consensus could be reached. (Paragraph 172)

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